Original-Cin TIFF 2019 Picks: Saturday, September 7

By Jim Slotek, Liam Lacey, Kim Hughes, and Karen Gordon

Knuckle City

Knuckle City

Henry Glassie: Field Work (Contemporary World Cinema)

Sat., Sept. 7, 1:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4; Mon., Sept. 9, 7:15 pm, Scotiabank 10; Sat., Sept 14, 9:15 am, Scotiabank 6.

“I don’t study people,” the American folklorist Henry Glassie says in this globe-trotting look at his work in action, “I stand with people and study the things they create.” This documentary by Pat Collins, similarly, gives us only a perfunctory glimpse of the man himself and his 50-year-career, opting instead to show us the beauty of the meticulous construction of an elaborate icon in Brazil, kilnwork in Piedmont, N.C., and carpet-weaving and ceramics in Turkey. It is a p-o-v work that respects the subject’s wishes and draws the line at cultural appropriation. Still, for all its beauty, it leaves a hunger for insight into what drives its subject. JS

Just Mercy (Gala)

Sat, Sept 7, 10 am, Princess of Wales Theatre; Sat., Sept. 14, 11 am, Princess of Wales Theatre.

Set in the early ‘90s, the powerful true story of a driven Northern defense attorney (Michael B. Jordan) trying to crack a fixed local justice system in Monroe County, Alabama (ironically, the hometown of To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee). His mission: to set free an unjustly convicted man (Jamie Foxx) from Death Row. A movie this dire (it was inspired by a 60 Minutes profile) doesn’t leave a lot of room for light moments. And it being a courtroom drama, there’s more speechifying than actual character development. But it’s the kind of real-life outrage and darkly absurd institutional racism that would be hard to swallow if it wasn’t true. JS

Knuckle City (Contemporary World Cinema)

Sat. Sept. 7, 10 pm, Scotiabank 2; Mon. Sep. 9, 12:30 pm, Sat. Sept 14, 3:15 pm, Scotiabank 13.

Two brothers, one a boxer, the other a criminal… but haven’t we seen this one before? (On The Waterfront, Raging Bull, The Fighter, Warrior). Ah, but the difference is in the details. Jahmil X.T. Quebeka’s ring drama is set in his hometown of Mdantsane, South Africa, starting in 1994 (the year apartheid ended) in a world of beaten bodies conditioned to destructive masculine codes. Dudu (Bongile Mahtsai) is an aging club fighter addicted to chasing teenaged girls while trying to support his wayward extended family. Meanwhile, his little brother Duke (Thembeile Komani) is a swaggering ex-con heading for trouble. The boxing scenes are concussive, the funky soundtrack pops and Quebeka’s 70s-era urban Hollywood visual style keep things lively even when the narrative momentum flags. LL

The Lighthouse (Special Presentations)

Sat. Sept 7, 9 pm, Ryerson Theatre; Sun. Sept. 8, 7:45 pm, Scotiabank 12. 

Writer/director Robert Eggers follows up his unsettling and meticulously crafted debut The Witch, with this two-man black-and-white tour de force that goes from drama to comedy to horror and back again. Set in the 1890s, the film stars Robert Pattinson as Winslow, who signs on to work for a lighthouse keeper, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Wake is every sea captain stereotype you’ve ever seen, spouting salty-dog cliches and superstitions. He treats the tightly-wound Winslow like a slave, and makes a show of keeping secrets. Eventually, Winslow, pushed by Wake, battered by the elements and the local seagulls, starts to unravel. Pattinson and Dafoe dig into their roles with gusto as the movie takes one unexpected turn after another.  Is it about madness? Man versus Nature? Is it a fever dream? This one will keep you thinking long after you’ve left the theatre. KG

Read our overview of TIFF 2019.